This season also starts with a great deal more expectation than last.
While the Capitals have quickly matured into a contender, anything short of winning the Eastern Conference (or the Stanley Cup) may be deemed a failure this season.
As opening night quickly approaches, it seems that the Capitals roster, and basic line structures, are set for head coach Bruce Boudreau.
- The top line will consist of back-to-back Hart winner, and 'Russian Machine,' Alexander Ovechkin. He will be flanked by new arrival, bruising winger Mike Knuble. The wings will look for smooth passes from rising-star center Nicklas Backstrom.
- The second line, which has been hotly debated, will feature threatening sniper Alexander Semin on the left wing. While Semin may see some first-line time with countryman Ovechkin, he will mostly play with gritty winger Brooks Laich. The pair will have another newcomer working the pivot, center Brendan Morrisson.
- The third line will provide a lot of energy and Coach Boudreau will hope to get some decent production from the unit of Capitals captain Chris Clark (at center), hard-working and versatile winger David Steckel, and youngster Chris Bourque.
- The shut-down fourth line will feature shot blocking specialist Quintin Laing (who looks to have made the team out of camp), face-off guru Boyd Gordon at center, and pesky agitator Matt Bradley on the opposite wing.
- Forward notes: Winger Tomas Fleischmann and Wing/Center Eric Fehr will start the year either on the injured list, or as possible scratches. Fehr is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery and is a few weeks away, while "Flash" is working his way back from a blood clot in his leg. Also, we await word from the Capitals management on the fate of enigmatic center Michael Nylander. Whether he ends up a healthy scratch or accepting a transfer to Europe (to alleviate cap room), is up in the air.
- The Capitals defense features scoring threats Mike Green and (a finally healthy) Brian Pothier, who will serve as the puck movers on the blueline and work the top power-play units respectively.
- Behind the scoring threats are steady veterans Tom Poti and John Erskine. Both serve as 'stay-at-home' style defenders, and Erskine will be tapped as the muscle on the roster this season.
- Battling it out for the final two roster spots on defense are shaky veteran Shaone Morrisonn, slow-skating (and often beatable) Jeff Schultz, slow-to-develop (but talented) Milan Jurcina, and Tyler Sloan (who spent most of his career to date in the AHL).
- Defense notes: The development of young defenseman Karl Alzner will continue in the AHL, as he did not make the team out of camp. It's mainly due to the number of defensemen on NHL one-way contracts and the proximity to the salary cap.
- Jose Theodore will get the early nod as the starting netminder, despite his playoffs woes and sometimes shaky starts last season. Theodore is in a contract year, and is looking to battle through family tragedy after the passing of his infant son. He will be given a chance to be the number one guy in DC, but I feel the leash is short.
- Playoff hero, and young star Semyon Varlamov, will be the go-to guy behind Theodore. After his meteoric rise, everyone seems to believe that he can become a high workload goalie. "Varly" is athletic and sees the puck very well.
Overall the Capitals look to follow up on their successes last year, and will hopefully remain in the NHL elite.
More to come as the season progresses.